With the rapid advancement of robotic research, it has become increasingly important to develop biomimetic micro- or nanorobots capable of translating biological principles into robotic systems. Now, a study from researchers at the University of California San Diego develops tiny ultrasound-powered robots able to swim through blood, removing harmful bacteria and toxins as they go along. The team states these proof-of-concept nanorobots could one day offer a safe and efficient way to decontaminate biological fluids. The study is published in the journal Science Robotics.
Previous studies indicate researchers have long hypothesized the development of tiny robots possessing the ability to live and travel inside humans, delivering drugs with unprecedented precision, or hunting down and destroying offending organisms. The current study designs, constructs, and evaluates a nanorobot for multipurpose removal of biological infectious agents.
The current study develops nanorobots by coating gold nanowires with a hybrid of platelet and red blood cell membranes. This hybrid cell membrane coating allows the nanorobots to perform the tasks of two different cells at once, namely, platelets so they can bind to pathogens, and red blood cells responsible for absorbing and neutralizing toxins produced by bacteria. Results show the gold body of the nanobots responds to ultrasound, enabling them to swim around rapidly without chemical fuel. Data findings show this mobility helps the nanorobots efficiently mix with bacteria and toxins in the blood to speed up detoxification.
Results show the nanorobots are about 25 times smaller than the width of a human hair, traveling up to 35 micrometers per second in blood when powered by ultrasound. In tests, researchers used the nanorobots to treat blood samples contaminated with MRSA, which after five minutes, was shown to have three times fewer toxins than untreated samples. The lab states by integrating natural cell coatings onto synthetic nanomachines, they can impart new capabilities such as removal of pathogens and toxins from the body and other matrices.
The team surmises they have developed ultrasound-propelled biomimetic nanorobots capable of isolating and removing different biological threats. For the future, the researchers state the ultimate goal is to use the nanorobots for detoxifying biological fluids in live animals.
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